The Investigation | Review

by Andrew Parker

Writer-director Tobias Lindholm’s Danish miniseries The Investigation belongs in the conversation alongside Mindhunter and Broadchurch when discussing the finest and most emotionally riveting police procedurals of this century. It’s a mystery based around one of the most sensationalized murder cases in Danish history, but the identity of the culprit is rarely in doubt. Instead, Lindholm and his terrific cast spend all six realistically designed episodes of The Investigation sussing out the “hows” and “whys” in a bid to make a cunning, privileged, and well connected criminal properly pay for the heinous and bizarre crime he committed. It’s a rigorous bit of storytelling that demands viewer concentration and patience, but The Investigation moves at the sort of breakneck speed that’s the hallmark of more run-of-the-mill procedurals. The Investigation is an exemplary addition to an overstuffed television genre. It makes the viewer work as hard as the characters do on screen to reach any sort of genuine catharsis, while sharing in their mounting frustrations.


The Investigation is based around the 2017 disappearance and murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall, a case that made international headlines thanks to the grisly, outlandish nature of its details. One night in August of that year, Wall went to interview a high profile Danish entrepreneur – whom Lindholm deliberately never names at any point throughout The Investigation – on his privately owned submarine. After the submarine sinks and the accused seems mysteriously unharmed, Copenhagen-based major crimes detective Jens Møller (Søren Malling) and his team begin their probe as a missing persons case. Upon raising the downed vessel, however, evidence of foul play is discovered. With the accused constantly changing their story with every new piece of evidence discovered, and a body or murder weapon nowhere to be found, Møller and his team mount a fraught, months long effort to keep their suspect behind bars long enough to prosecute them for murder.

The murder was perpetrated by someone who once bragged that any crime they might ever commit would be a major “happening,” and one that would baffle and befuddle anyone trying to catch him. But as one detective astutely points out late in The Investigation, even the most seemingly perfect of crimes comes with an element of sloppiness. It’s up to the officers in The Investigation to have a tougher resolve than a suspect who fancies themselves a criminal genius. Lindholm never shows the face of the accused, but the cunning and lingering evil remains palpable throughout The Investigation because the intricacies of the Danish justice system mean that there can be no reasonable doubt whatsoever if murder charges are to stick. The Investigation is an unrelenting procedural and forensic game of chicken that extends to a prosecutor (Pilou Asbæk) who won’t take any case from Jens that isn’t airtight, and a coroner (Henning Valin Jakobsen) who stubbornly refuses to establish a cause of death, even when the eventually recovered body speaks to unspeakable harms committed against the victim. Nothing is missed by not showing the villain or recreating the actual crime for the audience because The Investigation delivers exactly what it says in the title. It’s a series wholly dedicated to the hard, nuanced work it takes to be a detective on a high profile murder case.

Lindholm’s goal with The Investigation is to bring a once sensationalized murder case back down to earth with facts and science and without fanfare. The moment the accused is named would be the point where – at least in Denmark and Sweden – Wall’s death and the circumstances surrounding it become tabloid fodder. Lindholm worked on the aforementioned Mindhunter and is a frequent collaborator with Danish auteur Thomas Vinterberg (including on current cinematic awards season contender, Another Round), and The Investigation is just as factually grounded and emotionally complicated as any of his previous works. Although filled with plenty of scenes where detectives visit forensic offices, debate procedural points in conference rooms, and spend weeks trolling Køge Bay with increasingly exhausted military divers, Lindholm’s series has found a way to infuse mundane, uncinematic moments with tremendous amounts of raw, human agony and boundless empathy. 

For every step forward Jens’ investigation takes, his team is forced two or three steps back by new questions. It’s a bit like a tragic treasure hunt or anthropological expedition where the answers are all held by an egomaniacal psychopath that refuses to cooperate. All assumptions must be proven beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, and all other possible explanations about what could’ve happened on the submarine have to be disproven in totality. The Investigation, unlike many other crime series, shows the unbearable stress placed on detectives in a situation where the answers seem frustratingly simple, but require tremendous work to prove as truths in a court of law.

Lindholm’s cast is outstanding, led by an award worthy performance from Malling as the stoic lead detective. Jens’ life and relationships are splintering around him, with the previous case he attempted to bring before the courts ending horribly, and Malling is every bit convincing as an emotionally disintegrating man trying to hold things together. Jens’ fellow detectives are also memorable, with Hans Henrik Clemensen and Dulfi Al-Jabouri imbuing what could’ve been standard gumshoe roles with a great deal of subtle character work. Just as memorable as Malling is the work put in by Laura Christensen, who plays the teams’ technical and interrogations expert, a woman who throws herself headlong into relentlessly studying the case files after committing what could be a costly error.

Outside of the brilliantly mounted depiction of forensic detection, The Investigation makes a couple of attempts to seem like a more conventional sort of crime drama. A subplot involving Wall’s grieving parents (Rolf Lassgård and Pernilla August) and their desire to get involved with the case in a hands-on way does a fine job of putting a human face on such a detail oriented story, while nicely underlining the pressures faced by the detectives and surviving family members. Less successful is a subplot involving chronic workaholic Jens’ relationship to his estranged and pregnant adult daughter, Cecilie (Josephine Park). While it’s meant to give the main protagonist a greater sense of fallibility, it adds very little since this long simmering familial dispute pales greatly (and somewhat selfishly) in comparison to the ghastly crime at the centre of The Investigation. It’s a noticeable misstep that seems put in place to make the show a bit more conventional, but thankfully it’s the only element that seems out of place here.

It should go without saying at this point, but – like many crime dramas based on true events – it’s best if one refrains from looking up anything about the case until the series has wrapped up. Like many, I only knew about “the submarine murder” through its bizarre infamy. It was a case practically designed to leave news reporters salivating at the salacious implications of it all, but one that was also filled with false clues and leads that could quickly torpedo any chance of justice for the family. After watching The Investigation, I did find myself doing a bit of research into the case, and was pleasantly surprised to see that – outside of playing with timelines slightly – Lindholm’s series did exactly what it intended to do: it stuck to the facts. The Investigation makes these facts matter more than the gory, sordid details, and emerges as a show that lovingly pays tribute to the ideals valued most by the victim at the heart of the case. The Investigation is a thinking person’s idea of a thrill ride.

The Investigation premieres on Monday, February 1, 2021 at 10:00pm EST/PST on Crave in Canada and HBO Max in the U.S.


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